Da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da BATMAN!

As a young kid in Hickory, NC, one of my favorite things to do was to toss a cape on my back and run around the back yard singing “da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da BATMAN.”  Bruce Wayne had it all – a house with secret passageways, a girlfriend named “Cat Woman,” a cool black sports car, a spotlight that shined his own signature image over Gotham City and… a CAPE.  Who cares about the rest of the stuff when you have a kick-ass cape draped around your shoulders?  It just reeks of fierceness.

Apparently, my brother and I also liked the cowboys.  I remember the caps that came with the guns.  You had to position them just so on the hammer-spring.  And if you did, POP!  The noise would startle any girl in the neighborhood and all adults over the age of 30.

cowboys

Recently, Julie pointed out my obsession with dress up.

It started when I pulled out my personal cape, made by my friends after one of the productions of Ira David Wood’s A Christmas Carol which the girls and I have performed in for the past few years.

“Honey, that’s really nice.  Do you actually wear it out of the house?”

We then looked up appropriate places to wear a cape.  I think a fashion runway in London is likely the most appropriate.  I’m just ahead of my time.

When I was chosen to be a Celebrity Father Chef at my kids’ schools’ annual pancake breakfast, we were given a chef’s jacket and hat to identify us in the worthy role we had attained.  After all patrons had been served, I headed out to the dining room with my loaded Chinet.

cook

“Honey, do you want me to hold onto your hat while you eat?” Julie asked.

“Nah.  I sort of like it.  It’s very tall.”

At Halloween I convinced my children to dress up like nerds with me for Trunk-or-Treat.  We made kids answer math problems in exchange for candy.  I sent Julie that picture as well and tried to convince her that the nerdy guys were actually the best catches.  I think she bought it… I guess time will tell.  She did suggest that maybe one day I could have a dress up closet.  Man, would that be great or what???

nerd

There’s just something about donning an outfit that is typically not fitting.  It lets you be something you’re not.

Hmmm.  Maybe more people “dress up” than you think.  You don’t have to have a cape to hide who you really are.  I know a ton of folks who look one way on the outside but are something totally opposite on the inside.  Sometimes the outside is less pretty than the inside.  Sometimes not.  Sometimes the disguise is to protect from others looking in.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all be accepted for who God created us to be?  I mean, He knows what’s under the hat.  If he’s OK with it, why aren’t we?

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Others or yourself?

My dad is a great teacher.  He is very involved in his church and is constantly leading classes on raising kids (not sure if he has credibility there), marriage (he nailed that), communication, and other life stuff.  Recently he sent me the book The DNA of Relationships by Gary Smalley.  Dad’s using it for a class right now.

I’ve meandered through the book over the past month, and one of the big ah-hah’s for me has less to do about relationships and more to do with self.

Dr.  Smalley suggests that happiness comes from within.  He quotes Abraham Lincoln who said, “I reckon that people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”  Smalley goes on to say that a relationship with another flawed human being will not make you happy.  He asks, “Do two unhappy people normally form a happy couple?”  The answer is no.

I’m no expert on resilience or tackling hard issues.  I just did what I had to do.  But one thing I did realize through my grief was that I couldn’t live in a state of unending sadness.  I remember my counselor telling me in an early session after Lisa died that it would be three to five years before I would feel normal again – and that’s if I worked hard.  My response to her was, “That is unacceptable.”  I could not stay in that state.  I had to get out.

I was fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends, including three incredible kids, who injected joy and purpose into my life on a daily basis.  Although I was mad at God, I also had my faith.  I knew there was something more than we see here on this earth.  I clearly didn’t escape on my own.  But there was something in me that drove me to seek more.  That internal drive gave me my life back.

It wasn’t easy.  There were times that I actually felt guilty about being happy.  I had feelings of betrayal when I enjoyed life.  But I kept thinking, my kids deserve a happy dadThey’re going to face other significant obstacles in their life, and they need to see that there can be happiness after tragedy.  It was an example I had to set for them.  And that drove me to get better.

I worked diligently to get my grief out – like sweating out a fever.  I looked for ways to give back to help others in my situation.  I leaned on Uncle Jesse and followed his lead of reinserting zaniness into our house.  I leaned into my grief while simultaneously running in the opposite direction.

This strategy of aggressively facing my grief while looking for ways to combat it worked.  It gave me the ability to develop new friendships, to have the courage to try new things and find new passions, and to enter into an incredible relationship with Julie, my girlfriend, who I truly, truly love.  I can’t imagine my life today had I taken the alternate route.

Movement forward doesn’t come from others, although they can help.  It comes from within.  It comes from perseverance and an internal rejection of sadness or anger or resentment or whatever other negative emotion that festers inside us.

Those who know me would not describe me as an over the top optimistic dude.  I’m naturally sarcastic and can be a bit Chicken Littleish, one eye always watching for the sky to fall.  But those who look beyond the facade, they see more.  I saw an old friend in downtown Raleigh recently.  She looked me up and down and said, “I can tell you’re happy.”  How refreshing to be described that way.

I am grateful I had it in me to declare war on grief.  It’s a battle worth fighting.

122 Degrees? Let’s Do Yoga!

upward dog

Upward Dog, nice

The only reason I agreed to accompany my girlfriend, Julie, and her daughter to HOT yoga was so I could write a blog about it.  I mean seriously… forty people crammed in a room stretching in unnatural ways with the temperature set at 122 degrees.  Who does this willingly?

As I entered the room, it was like a yoga parking lot.  Our spaces were preset so as to maximize floor capacity.  I was sandwiched between Julie and her daughter in row three of five.  In front of me were two women.  One, I quickly found out, could do a full, unassisted headstand – it was not required by the instructor but this was part of her warm up routine – showoff.  The other lady was so flexible I fully believe she could have stuck her head in her own behind.

The room smelled like the inside of a cow and that was before the class began.  Two days later the scent of the armpits surrounding me is affixed firmly in my nostrils.

It was apparent I was the newbie.  The other men in the class wore yoga clothes.  Dry fit shirts that absorb the sweat and shorts with Lycra underneath.  One very fit 30ish year old guy removed his shirt immediately upon entering.   I was not so confident.

I wore an old, holy, Camp Sea Gull shirt.  My boxers dangled below my shorts.  When our instructor, Spandexi, said “Chatturanga” (which is apparently a pose), I looked around for Mexican appetizers.

Apparently this particular studio is owned by a guy named Tanner Houseman (or some cool name like that).  He was not present at our class on Saturday but there were full framed posters of him lining the stairwell.  He was simply wearing yoga pants while doing head stands and other yogi moves.

If I looked like Tanner Houseman, I too would have full sized posters of my half naked self lining my stairwell.  In fact, they’d also be lining my den and bathroom walls, the conference room at work, and I might even wrap myself around my 2007 Acura MDX like a city bus ad.  His arms have greater circumference than my chest.

Julie’s daughter asked where the staircase in the lobby led.  I told her it’s where they store the bodies of those who didn’t make it through the class.

As the end of our sweatful adventure neared it’s end, my classmates and I lay on our backs on our mats.  As I thanked God for sparing my life, I felt a cold cloth draped over my eyes.  I lifted up an edge to make sure that the instructor had placed one on others’ heads as well.  I was fearful she had noticed that I was about to go down and had singled me out.  She had not.  We were all being cared for by our teacher.  She was quite a lovely woman.

After the room cooled to a comfortable 95, we sat with our legs folded.  I felt like the Dali Lama.  Spandexci had us rest our arms, palms up, in front of us and invited us to chant “Ummmmm.”  I pondered participating but simply could not.  I feared I could not control what might come out of my mouth at that moment if I was verbal.  I held my lips tight and continued my prayer that this purgatory would soon come to an end.

It did.  And I am now innerly fumigated.

The Kid Sabbatical

They left me.  Yep.  All three of my girls trekked down to Camp Seafarer for a full five weeks.  Today I pick up Michelle, and I am so, so happy.

When Lisa died seven years ago, in addition to drowning in grief, I developed a fear of being alone.  The thought of staying in our house without other human beings consumed me.  I worked to stagger kid sleepovers so that all wouldn’t be gone at once.  I did the same with overnight camp, picking one up before sending the next.  I was paralyzed by the mere thought of quiet.

When I turned 50, I assumed I was complete.  I am happy, understand my strengths and limitations and am comfortable with who I have become.  What I didn’t expect was more self-growth.  I thought my insides were pretty set – sort of like the gray hair – there was no reversing what had developed; it is what it is.

What I have discovered over the past month is that, even as an aging dude, I’m ever changing, ever growing, ever maturing.  Yeah, I have REALLY missed my kids over the past 36 days (not that I was counting) but this time apart has allotted me time to rejuvenate and to focus on areas of my life that I’ve somewhat neglected.

This past month I’ve been able to focus on my relationship with my girlfriend, Julie.  she doesn’t live in Raleigh so the ability to head to Charlotte or on vacation together has given us the chance to pull back the curtain a bit.  I’ve discovered she’s cooler than I had imagined.  And best of all, after getting to know me even more, she’s still taking my calls!

I’ve exercised, slept hard, read and watched my backlog of DVR’d CBS Sunday Morning shows (man am I old).  I’ve eaten dinner with a number of my buddies, visited my parents twice, and I even got a massage.

I’ve surprised myself this year.  Even at AARP age, there’s still hope to tweak my many imperfections and to face down my fears.  It isn’t over!

I have a long way to go, but it’s nice to know it’s not too late for improvement.

The Gut

A dear friend of mine just resigned from the YMCA where we have worked together for thirty years.  She got an awesome opportunity to work with a former co-worker at the Y in Richmond.  Her kids are both in college, and it just seemed like a great opportunity for her to start anew.  She basically lived in Raleigh her entire life and most of her career, although in different positions, has been in one organization.  Gutsy move.

Big decisions are daunting for me.  I play out scenario after scenario – what if…

I recently went through a significant one with Michelle on high school choice.  That one was not mine to make, but I did hold some responsibility for coaching.

Stephanie is beginning to ponder colleges.  Another biggie.  Where you go to college will set the compass for the rest of your life:  where you live, your future spouse, your kids – all of those things ride on ONE significant decision.

Through the years, I’ve had opportunities to apply for other jobs similar to my friend.  I’ve considered selling my house and downsizing.  Occasionally I get the bug to pick up and leave the comfort of Raleigh, where I’ve spent the past 33 years, just to try something new.  But my roots are so very deep.

I have another friend who has had job after job.  She has lived in at least four cities in North Carolina, in Minnesota, and Colorado.  She has gone to various higher education institutions to chase her dreams.  And, she has always made new friends and adapted well.

I once saw a movie called Sliding Door.  The movie highlights Helen’s life.  She gets fired from her job and heads to the subway for home.  In one scenario, she catches the train and finds her boyfriend cheating on her in their apartment.  In another scenario, she misses the train and has no idea what he did.  The movie follows these two parallel lives.  And the outcome at the end is remarkably different, simply because of one train ride.

I suppose the lesson here is that any decision we make, big or small, can drastically change the course of our lives.  Lisa’s sister met her husband at a bar one night years ago.  Had she stayed at home to watch Grey’s Anatomy, who knows?

I asked my friend how she decided to make the move – what pushed her to jump.  Her reply?  “My gut.”

She simply felt it was the right thing to do at the right time.

Although I’m not happy with her for leaving, I’m pretty sure she’s made the right decision.  A little prayer and the following of your “gut” can lead you to some pretty incredible things.

 

 

Stephanie, the Pickle Farmer

college visit photo

Another junior, another week of college tours!  Whoa baby.

What a great way to spend one-on-one time with your kid.  A car, a dad, a daughter and 947 miles of walking around college campuses.

The first one was interesting.  It declined from there.

Things I rediscovered about universities and making that all important, life-changing decision:

  • Every school has a blue light emergency system. This is pointed out at all of the schools for parents who are scared to death that their kid is going to be attacked walking across campus at 2 AM.  I am one of those parents.  I like the blue light stations.
  • For a high school junior female on tour, the cuter the male guide, the higher the satisfaction with the college. At Furman, half of the tour was given on long purple golf carts.  Stephanie and I had been near the back of the walking portion of the tour led by a cute, peppy female co-ed.  When the staff member pointed us toward the golf carts for the remainder of our visit, a blonde stud muffin with a million dollar smile stepped out of the driver’s side inviting us to embark.  Stephanie knocked over two other girls, three moms and a grandmother to sit on the row behind Sven.  I glared at her.  “I’m really interested in this college” she defended.  I should arrange for the cuter guides to meet us at the cheaper schools.  Seriously?  We can’t make a decision on where to attend college based on the hotness factor of the dude leading the tour!  That is NOT a good measuring stick.
  • At each school, the first question prospective students are asked is “What are you considering for your major?” Stephanie is undecided although she has some interest in psychology.  I suggested she share her potential major.  She did not.  She didn’t want to commit.  I told her it didn’t matter what she said on tour, that it was not binding – that they would not force her to become a child psychologist simply because she mentioned it in April of her junior year in high school.  As we drove down the highway, we saw a sign for Mt. Olive College (we did not tour there).  But since Mt. Olive is famous for pickles, I suggested when asked about her future vocation at the next stop she say, “I am considering becoming a pickle farmer.”  We wondered how that would go over at Wake Forest.
  • I was aware that most higher learning establishments housed a Starbucks. I was unaware that the most frequently asked question by students on a college tour was, “Do you have a Chic Fil A?”  I do not know why that surprised me.  When DJ went to college in Washington, DC, she picked up jogging as a hobby.  That was shocking since she absolutely HATES to run.  But then, I realized, she was not running for exercise or endorphin pleasure.  She was running to catch the Chic Fil A food truck.  There are no stores near campus so she had an ap on her phone that tracked the vehicle’s whereabouts.  If within three miles of her dorm, she would don the running gear and high tail it to chicken.  By the way, all but one of the universities we visited had a Chic Fil A.  So don’t panic.  One is near.

This is not my last child nor my last week of tours.  Although a bit boring and repetitive, I would not trade this time with my kids for anything.  What an incredible way to get uninterrupted time with someone you love.

More! More! More!

I’m selfish. I want to help the world, but I’m just too lazy or too greedy to do it.

On Friday night, I was at a fundraiser. It was for an international group that helps people in need.

The video they shared to kick the night off would rip your heart out. I had to drink another glass of really nice wine to absorb it all.

This man shared a letter from a kid he supports somewhere in Africa. The girl had written a thank you note for the man’s support but shared her concern about her father. Apparently he had to wait to work in his field until after several others in the community had finished their work. He didn’t own his own ox or plow. He borrowed. Therefore, he was the last to plant.  She feared for the family’s livelihood for the next twelve months if he didn’t get his dirt turned soon.

My kids are worried about a lot of things.  But they aren’t worried about whether they’ll have a roof over their heads or food to eat.

Just tonight I put a big helping of shrimp linguini in the fridge because I made entirely too much. We don’t eat leftovers, but I continue to save them because I can’t handle the guilt of throwing perfectly good food away. The Tupperware will sit there until next weekend. I’ll feel fine tossing it out then because no one would want to eat it at that point, not even really hungry folk.

Do you know how much it cost to buy the girl’s father an ox and a plow?  $300.  And there would likely be enough left to purchase a donkey too. I have suits that cost that much.  Several of them.

I also spend that much at Costco sometimes because I get carried away. I need to buy extra shrimp and linguini so my icebox won’t be empty.

This is a nutty world.

What if we could get our extra linguini to Africa by Tuesday? Wouldn’t that be nice?

The problem is that I’m much more comfortable giving my leftovers. That’s easy.

I took a car full of stuff to Goodwill today because I was through with it. And, I get a tax write off. But what if I gave more up front to combat the zany inequities in our world? Heck, in our city.

I probably won’t do that. Instead I’ll buy more stuff and complain about paying taxes – which sometimes do help people in need. More for me!!  More, more, more.

 

Lemonade out of Lemons

The girls and I recently became hooked on a new TV show on NBC called This Is Us.  Although my kids can watch a 12 episode series in a weekend’s time, I don’t often have the inclination to sit that still that long.  But, there is something different about this show.

One storyline is set in the 70’s and 80’s and is about a family with three kids.  There is a parallel storyline set today that follows the children as grownups.

I am particularly drawn to two characters in the series.  My first attraction is to the father of the three kids, Jack Pearson.  He has his flaws, but he is an incredible man.  He brings life and fun into the family.  He is wonderfully sensitive, crying multiple times in the very first show.  He just wants things to be OK for his kids and for his wife to be genuinely happy.  It is refreshing to watch how he invests in others.

There is also a 70-year-old man, Dr. Nathan Katowski the wife’s obstetrician, who is also a regular on the show.  He is a widower and sort of mentors Jack.

I want to see pieces of each of these men in me.

At one point, the young father and his wife lose a baby in delivery.  This is the advice that the seasoned Dr. Katowski gives to Jack:

I’d like to think that one day you’ll be an old man like me, talking a younger man’s ear off explaining to him how you took the sourest lemon life has to offer and turned it into something resembling lemonade. 

I think when you go through tough times, folks are more prone to sharing their setbacks with you.  Perhaps they feel that you can understand.

I’ve recently had acquaintances lose loved ones – children, parents, spouses.  I know of those who have lost their jobs.  I’ve spent time with a widower who has six children under the age of 12.  I am amazed at how many rediscover good out of really nasty situation.

If for no other reason, as a young widower, I was propelled to drive forward for my kids’ sakes.  I couldn’t bear for them to live in a house with a father who was paralyzed by grief.  In the end, I was the one who benefited.  I found happy.

I hurt so bad seven years ago (this week marks the anniversary).  I was messed up.  And yet, today, I can’t imagine there are that many out there with more blessings than me.

 

Healing does not mean forgetting.  For me it is figuring out how to put grief in its appropriate place.

Writing makes you ponder things that perhaps you wouldn’t otherwise.  I think about my legacy often – what I want to be remembered for when I’m gone from this earth.  I think it’s important to me for my kids to look back and say, “Man did dad make some good lemonade.”  Like the pink kind with real slices of lemon floating on the top, in a really nice pitcher with grandma ice cubes.

How fortunate I am to be sipping again.

Joy

cogswell-joy

I got a weird and wonderful call this week.

The area code was 910.  I recognized it because it is the same as my parents’.  On my phone screen the word Fayetteville popped up. Most people would not get excited by that word.  My hometown does not have the most exciting nor stellar reputation.  But for me, when I imagine that city, I just get all warm and tingly inside.

The voicemail was jumbled and cut off a few seconds into the call.  But I could clearly make out the name, and I surely recognized the voice.

“Danny, this is Joy from Fayetteville.  I saw a picture of you on Facebook and…”

Joy!

Joy was the pianist and a youth leader at my church when I was growing up.  Although old to us at the time, she was probably early thirties, she was so stinkin’ cool.  She was one of few adults who let my friends and me call her by her first name:  Joy.  How fitting.  She brought a ton of it to me.

In many ways, I was an insecure teen, not quite sure what to think of myself or my place in the world.  I did not peak in high school – that is an understatement – I didn’t even slightly ascend.  But Joy and Doug and Kim and Mike and Mr. Lundy and Mrs. Byrd and Miss Patty hurled themselves into my life with the full intent of helping me to discover all that I had that was good.  I’m sure it was a chore – like finding a pineapple tree growing in the Alaskan Tundra.

It didn’t seem to bother them that I was imperfect.  Sometimes I cussed.  Once I led the brigade of boys on a youth retreat in a full on mooning convention.  We pulled our pants down every single time a girl in our group walked by and even mooned passersby from the church bus windows.  These adults showed me love and compassion and how to invest in the lives of those around you.

Because of my work at the YMCA, I often read articles on how to insure that children grow up with a strong self-esteem and the ability to be productive members of society.  Having adults outside of your family who care about you is a key factor in accomplishing those goals.

I am thankful for Joy and for my church that poured into me for so many years.  I am thankful for the adults who have done the same for my kids.

Now, it’s my turn.

 

Hands-on Giving

christmas-gifts

I fully buy into Christmas being about giving.

As a kid, Christmas presents were a big, big deal.  My parents went over the top with Santa followed by gifts from them.  In addition, my brother and I were the only grandchildren on both sides of the family.  They ensured that any potential gaps in our want list were fully covered.

My parents also didn’t buy us anything the other 11 months of the year.  December not only brought in the toys we desired, but it also stocked us up on socks and underwear for the year, a leisure suit for church and shoes.

In November, we looked like we’d just stepped out of the play Oliver Twist.  Our pants too short, and we had holes in our drawers.    January 1, it appeared as if Daddy Warbucks was kin.  We were looking great again!

But now, I have the ability to buy what I need, when I need it.  I’m not rich, but if my tennis shoes are worn, I pretty much have the capacity to replace them winter, spring, summer or fall.  Thus, this time of year has shifted for me.  Unlike my youthful self I am appreciative, but unmotivated by what awaits me under the tree.  A coffee cup with my kid’s art on the side is more exciting to me than a Brooks Brothers’ suit.  It’s all about maturity and perspective.

I do, however, really, really want others to appreciate what I have chosen for them.  And it saddens me to think of those who aren’t able to celebrate the holiday with the same vigor as we do.

For years I have adopted a family from the YMCA’s Angel Tree.  Our organization works to help bring Christmas to thousands of underserved kids who participate in our programs.  With my busy work schedule and the play I’m in with the girls, I became overwhelmed this year.  I was stretched in so many directions.  Therefore, I made the choice to give money to my church for those in need rather than to take a name off the tree and go on a shopping spree for a specific child.

That decision hasn’t ruined the season for me, but I’ll have to say that I regret simply giving a check.  I truly miss the excitement of picking out cool stuff for someone specific.  Each year, the girls and I would get so excited about a cool pair of jeans and a hat for our unknown three-year-old boy.  Finding the Thomas the Train playset he requested filled my cup.  With no boys in my house, I was pumped to pick out little dude tennis shoes and boy toys.

I took the easy way out this year.  I checked the ”helping others’ box” on my Christmas list with absolutely no effort on my part.  And it is just not the same.

Certainly the money I give will be helpful, maybe more so.  But there is a difference in giving to fulfill a quota and being fully invested in the process.

I give checks to several nonprofits throughout the year understanding that they must have my support to do their work and don’t bat an eye.  But at Christmas, I feel compelled to do more.  I won’t make this choice next year.